George Clooney And His “Monuments Men” Whip Fans At Berlinale Red Carpet Into A Frenzy

Actor George Clooney at the Berlinale red carpet. Photo grabbed from Reuters video
Actor George Clooney at the Berlinale red carpet. Photo grabbed from Reuters video

(Reuters) — George Clooney and his cast of “The Monuments Men” whipped the German capital into a frenzy on Saturday (February 7) with hundreds of fans trying to catch a glimpse of Clooney,

Matt Damon, Bill Murray and others as they arrived at the movie’s international red carpet premiere. There, the stars patiently signed autographs and took pictures with fans.

For the most ambitious of his five films as director, George Clooney assembled a top-shelf cast of fellow actors to play art experts tasked with retrieving artistic treasure stolen by the Germans during World War Two.

Clooney and producing-writing partner Grant Heslov based the movie on the book of the same name by Robert Edsel, and were inspired by the men that formed that group, but changed names and took liberties to develop characters. Clooney, 52, plays Frank Stokes, the group’s leader and an art historian, based on George Stoutfrom Harvard’s Fogg Museum.

Clooney, who also co-wrote the film rounded out his Monuments Men with a sculptor played by John Goodman, Bob Balaban as a theater director, Jean Dujardin as a French-Jewish art dealer, and Hugh Bonneville as an alcoholic British art expert looking for a second chance. Cate Blanchett plays a Parisian curator who leads Damon to find art stowed away in mines by the retreating Nazis.

Murray plays a Chicago architect recruited late in the war for a middle-aged Allied unit on a mission sanctioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Co-star Matt Damon plays a New York museum director.

The premiere of the film which has been released in the United States to mixed reviews was one of the most anticipated events of the festival, where four German films are among 20 seeking the top prize.

It was Clooney’s presence that created a huge queue of press to attend his news conference, where he also acknowledged that reality had caught up with his film right here in Germany.

The discovery last year of a huge trove of artwork in a Munich apartment has created a flurry of news about paintings and other treasures stolen or expropriated by the Nazis and still awaiting restitution to their rightful owners.

“We’ve had a long three-year conversation with the guys here at Fox (the film’s distributors) to get the news to hold the story,” Clooney joked, before turning serious.

“It’s a story that’s going to keep coming up because there’s still an awful lot of art still missing and will be found in lots of people’s basements. It just happened to be one rather amazing find, one and a half billion dollars….It’s an amazing conversation to have, the responsibility of getting back the art to people,” he said.

Actor-director George Clooney and "The Monuments Men" cast turn Berlinale red carpet into a screaming frenzy
Actor-director George Clooney and “The Monuments Men” cast turn Berlinale red carpet into a screaming frenzy

Clooney, who enjoys clowning at festival events also joked at the red carpet: “Everybody got along well except for Bill Murray. He is, as you can imagine, he is hard to be around. (talks to someone off screen). Bill Murray, you know. You have seen him. I said no hats, what does he do, he wears a hat.” Murray said: “This has been nice. This is a good group and we are all together in this one and for the sell of the movie and for the showing of the movie. It’s nice, we all became good friends and we are all here on this job. George Clooney was a great boss and we love him and we are going to stay with this until it is all opened in Paris and London, Milan and New York, which we have already done.”

Matt Damon added he always enjoyed working with Clooney: “He (George Clooney) is really good at his job, at all four of them, writing, producing directing and acting. And that makes him very easy and fun and he creates a really great environment. We laughed our way through this movie, you know. Every day was fun. It was this incredible cast. I got to work with Cate (Blanchett) again who I hadn’t worked with in 16 years so it was a pretty great experience.”

The last surviving member of the real life Monuments Men, Harry Ettlinger was also at the red carpet. He fled Germany with his Jewish family in 1938 and returned with the US army in 1945.

Asked repeatedly at the news conference why he’d chosen this story for one of his biggest budget movies, Clooney said the historical events had grabbed him, much like the war action stories of his youth. This one, he said, had an interesting twist.

“Hollywood does like a good World War Two story but this seemed like a story I didn’t know. It wasn’t a megapatriotic film but a chance to talk about a unique group of people who did something for the first time in the history of war, which is the victor didn’t keep the spoils, they gave it back.”